The State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) covert support unit – set up to fight terrorism and organised crime – is allegedly being used to target President Jacob Zuma’s political opponents in the ANC ahead of the party’s elective conference in December, intelligence sources told the Mail & Guardian this week.
This emerged in the wake of damaging leaked emails, which implicated Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in extramarital affairs.
Government and ANC sources with knowledge of the goings-on in intelligence circles this week claimed the covert unit, headed by Thulani Dhlomo, was conducting illegal surveillance and intercepting phone calls and emails of ANC politicians, including Ramaphosa.
Other ANC politicians allegedly targeted by the covert unit include ANC presidential hopefuls Human Settlement Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
The SSA has denied the existence of the covert unit.
The intelligence sources, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, claimed the covert unit was no longer gathering intelligence in the interests of the nation, but rather to fight political battles in the ANC. They claimed the unit was reporting to State Security Minister David Mahlobo and to the president.
They claimed the foreign currency worth R17-million that was stolen from the spy agency’s headquarters in December 2015 was used to fund the illegal intelligence activities conducted by the covert unit.
“This is why we haven’t seen any progress with regard to the investigation on the matter. The money that got lost there was never recovered because it’s used for illegal surveillance,” said one intelligence source.
Ramaphosa has so far not denied the existence or the veracity of the emails first published by the Sunday Independent, but has condemned the use of state resources to target political opponents. He said the emails were illegally obtained from his private email account.
ANC insiders told the M&G this week that the deputy president was aware of the illegal surveillance against him and has related his frustration to some of the senior ANC leaders close to him.
An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member, who spoke to Ramaphosa about the matter, said the deputy president found it difficult to trust his ANC and government colleagues.
“He no longer trusts anyone – not even his bodyguards, because he believes they were spying on him. He can’t take sensitive phone calls anymore while in the company of his bodyguards,” said the NEC member sympathetic to Ramaphosa.
Another ANC member, who is in Ramaphosa’s team, said the deputy president has become so careful that he no longer eats food at public events for fear of being poisoned. The ANC member said the deputy president told those close to him that he was informed by officials in the intelligence services about plans to put bugging devices at his houses and offices in different provinces.
Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Tyrone Seale, on Thursday did not respond to specific questions emailed to him by the M&G, saying the security of the deputy president was the responsibility of the police.
Addressing the ANC Women’s League rally in Johannesburg on Sunday, Ramaphosa described the the leaked emails as a “targeted attack” aimed at tarnishing his name ahead of the ANC elective conference in December.
“We should not allow faceless provocateurs to determine who should lead our movement. We are going to renew this ANC. It is not the front pages of newspapers that will choose the leadership of the ANC. It is these branches. You as the branches, it is now in your hands. It is your ANC. It does not belong to provocateurs.
“Claims have been made against me. This happened through state organs. I think we are going to see more of this. I am able to say that this is not going to deter me. Where I have made mistakes, I will take full responsibility … I will not be deterred,” he said.
“We should never, as the ANC, descend to the level where we utilise state resources to target each other. This is a weakness we must get rid of. We saw this kind of thing happening in 2007,” he said, referring to political shenangians before the ANC’s Polokwane conference, where Jacob Zuma was elected ANC president.
“We are now in a season where a number of dirty tricks are being played to discredit members,” he said.
Mkhize said the leaked emails on Ramaphosa were nothing but dirty tricks by his political opponents to damage Ramaphosa’s reputation.
“The dirty tricks are not something that one really believes is the right way to go, to try throw around fake news and dirty tricks into the scenario. We need that environment not to be polluted by externalities. It is possible that people will … create smear campaigns. That is not within our control. I don’t have anything that I feel would disqualify one from participating in the leadership of the ANC collective that will appear in December,” Mkhize said at a media event in Sandton on Thursday.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe also condemned the use of state resources for political purposes.
“Candidates must not see an advantage in being assisted by the state in any way. They [must] contest on the base of logic, the values of the ANC and on the ethics of politics,” Mantashe told radio station 702 in an interview.
“Hacking emails and telephones and listening to conversations is quite a serious issue, it is done through authorisation of orders. When it happens that that is apparent you must always fear that there is a big risk of state resources being used. […] We hope we don’t degenerate to the level where the National Party was, because that was the beginning of the end.
“It can’t be that we allow the [mis] use of state institutions to continue when we are in power,” he said.
“The ANC has no direct authority over state institutions. When they listen to your conversations on the telephone, all we can say is, ‘This thing of listening to people is bad,’ and say to comrades who are running the state, ‘Let’s not be listened to’.”
When approached for comment, police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo referred the M&G to the inspector general of crime intelligence, Setlhomamaru Dintwe. Attempts to reach Dintwe for comment were unsuccessful as the phones in his office went unanswered.
State security spokesperson Brian Dube said allegations of a covert unit at the State Security Agency had already been dispelled.
“The so-called CSU matter is an old matter. In 2014 the [inspector general] looked into these allegations when Minister [David Mahlobo] referred it to that office after the City Press published the story [about the alleged existence of a covert unit]. The report didn’t find any unlawfulness on the part of SSA. That report was referred to the JSCI [joint standing committee on intelligence],” Dube said. “The new allegations raised by the deputy president must be dealt with as such.”
Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Ngqulunga, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to print. – Additional reporting by Given Sigauqwe, Dineo Bendile and Govan Whittles